Dharana, the sixth limb of yoga, is “holding,” or concentration, and refers to the ability to focus exclusively on one object. It is the second of the internal limbs with Pratyahara that we explored last week being the first. Dharana furthers the process of concentration.
While with asana and pranayama the practitioner uses physical sensation as a focal point, pratyāhāra seeks to draw away from sensory input. Now that the practitioner has established a practice of concentration, they can attempt to turn it inward, moving away from tangible focal points.
Drawing the senses away from external objects and inward, towards the Self, begins this slow narrowing of focus. In fact, it is concentration. In dharana, Patanjali stops holding our hand and offers us the task without training wheels, offering without extras the process of binding consciousness to a single point.
At this stage, the aspiring yogi has acquired enough general stability to work solely on the steadiness of the mind. As Iyengar explains it, through yama and niyama, the practitioner learns to develop emotional stability. Through asana, he or she stabilizes the body, and through pranayama the flow of energy throughout body and mind. In pratyāhāra, willpower and clarity of thought are developed.
From this foundation, we work in dharana to stabilize the mind, either keeping it steady on its own or by having it hold on to an unmoving object.Dharana is about fixing the mind to one specific point. This could be something internal, like part of the body or a chakra, or something external like a picture, statue or another object. It's not so important what this object is that we are focusing on; the purpose is to quiet the mind with this total concentration.
When we focus the mind intensely into one point, the rest of the mind tends to quiet down. When we practice concentration like this, there is less room for other thoughts, memories, and planning that the mind tends to otherwise be busy with.
Dharana is an important step on our way to the next step, Dhyana or meditation which we will explore next week.